You don’t need to leave Earth to get a taste of space travel, but you do need to escape light pollution. The North York Moors are far away from the bright lights of towns and cities, so when the sun goes down, a dazzling display of as many as 2,000 stars fills the sky.

The Dark Skies Festival is returning to the North York Moors for its fifth year in 2020, and boasts more than 100 events which include stargazing, night time strolls and other after dark adventure. You can explore York by day and explore the cosmos by night. It may be a tad more than one small step, but at just 40 minutes by car, it’s not a giant leap either. Here are some of the highlights.

Expert Astronomers

Nothing can compare to genuine expertise, and the Dark Skies Festival are hosting some real astronomic know-how. Chris Lintott from the BBC’s Sky at Night has a plea for your help. With modern telescopes providing us with more and more data, an army of volunteers is needed if scientists are to have any hope of getting to the bottom of it all.

Professor Carole Haswell is head of Astronomy at the Open University. She’ll be imparting her invaluable knowledge through a talk, Q&A, and moonlight experience. There’ll even be the chance to get hands on with rock fragments from the moon. She’ll be repeating this event for younger children and their families to inspire the little ones on the 29th Feb.

In Search of the Elusive Aurora

It’s not just starscapes that the North York Moors are blessed with; they are also one of the few places in the UK where you’re in with a chance of witnessing the jaw-dropping show of the Aurora Borealis. Join Roy from AstroVentures as he takes you through the history of the social and cultural impact of the Northern Lights, sheds light on our scientific understanding of the Aurora today, and advises you on how to predict, find and photograph a display of the elusive Aurora. Stargazing will also be included before and after the presentation. 

Coastal Delights

Surely the only rival to the open skies is the open seas, and what could be more relaxing than star gazing over the ocean, accompanied by the gentle sound of breaking waves. There are a number of great coastal opportunities including stargazing at the National Trust Centre at Ravenscar, a guided tour of the night sky at Cober Hill and a stargazing party at Fyling Hall School.

Virtual Reality

View it 360 are giving you the chance to relive the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Experience propulsion into space, a moons eye view of the Earth and thrilling re-entry. Alternatively you can explore the solar system and have a go at repairing the International Space Station.

Stargazing in the Howardian Hills

Just a stones throw from York, The Howardian Hills AONB are also hosting some great Dark Skies events, including the Terrington Stargaze. The spring sky can be observed through powerful telescopes, including distant galaxies and the moon, Uranus and Venus. There'll also be colourful talks for stargazing newcomers and a chance to handle space rocks that are over 4 billion years old.

If you want to capture stunning pictures of the night sky then don't miss the night time photography workshop at Castle Howard with specialist Steve Bell. Based in Helmsley, Steve has worked with the BBC's Natural History Unit to create senstation and starry time lapse images, as well as regularly being commissioned by the national parks. 

Space Adventures for Half Term

The Dark Skies Festival is full of great activities for younger family members to make discoveries during half term, many of them based at the National Park Centres at Sutton Bank and Danby. As well as the VR experiences mentioned above, there’s also Inspired by… "Starry Night", a chance to have a go at craft activities based on the Van Gogh masterpiece, Moonrock Geocaching, where family teams can use GPS to search for hidden boxes containing space themed clues, and the lunar trail of Little Boots Wednesdays: Little Stars, suitable for ages 3-7. Go Ape… in the Dark returns to Dalby Forest, suitible for ages 10+.

Stay and see more

If you’re planning to rocket to York for the Dark Skies Festival then start planning your adventure now. There are a number of places providing Dark Skies Friendly accommodation in the North York Moors, with equipment such as telescopes or binoculars, and reclining chairs with blankets so you can relax and keep warm whilst looking at the stars. In York, there’s a great range of places to stay, giving you the time to see more and make the most of your visit. The York & Beyond Explorer Pass gives you free entry to over 45 attractions in the city and surrounding area. All systems go!